Estoppels, Estoppels, Estoppels!

Effective July 1, 2017, Florida's condominium, cooperative and mandatory homeowners' associations (and the management companies hired by those associations) will have some certainty and guidance when dealing with requests for estoppel certificates.

Florida Statute Sections 718.116, 719.108, and 720.30851 have all been amended.

Here are just a few highlights of those amendments:

As I said, these are just a few of the "highlights".

  • The estoppel certificate must now be issued within 10 business days after the association receives the request (rather than 15 days as previously provided)
  • Each of the amended statutes now specifically provides that the estoppel certificate contain certain information and each further provides that the information is to be "substantially" in a form provided in each of these statutes
  • A thirty or thirty-five day effective period (depending on how the estoppel certificate is sent to the requesting party) is provided for in each of these amended statutes
  • The association or its authorized agent (such as its management company) may charge a "reasonable fee" for the preparation and delivery of an estoppel certificate. Where there are no delinquent amounts owed on the date the certificate is issued, that fee cannot exceed $250. If the certificate is requested on an "expedited basis" and delivered within three business days after the request, an additional $100 may be charged, and, if a delinquent amount is owed to the association for the unit or parcel in question, an additional amount not to exceed $150 can be charged
  • There are provisions governing calculating the amounts that can be charged for estoppel certificates for multiple units or parcels owned by the owner

If you are interested in reading the full text of Senate Bill 398, you can link to it here.

Please feel free to contact me through this blog if you have any questions.

Florida's Legislators Update ROC Fining Committees

 Florida's lawmakers "tweaked" the provisions relating to ROC "fining committees" during the recent legislative session in Tallahassee.  In summary, condominium associations, cooperative associations, and mandatory homeowners' associations now follow a similar process:

  • The revisions now clarify that it is the "board of administration" (which most ROC's refer to as the Board of Directors) that imposes the fine or suspension
  • However, the fine or suspension levied by the Board may not be imposed unless the Board first provides at least 14 days' written notice and an opportunity for a hearing to the unit or parcel owner (and, if applicable, the occupant, licensee or invitee of the unit or parcel)
  • This hearing must be held before a "fining committee"  of unit owners (or association members in mandatory HOA's).  The legislative revisions to the cooperative laws added a provision that prohibits board members and persons residing in the home of a board member from serving on this fining committee.  This restriction has existed for "fining committees" in condominium associations for a number of years.  The restrictions on persons who can comprise the fining committee in a mandatory homeowners' association are somewhat more expansive.
  • Finally, there is a new statement in the provisions governing fining committees in all three types of associations that the role of the fining committee "is limited to determining whether to confirm or reject the fine or suspension levied by the board".

I'm posting a link to HB 791 for those of my blog followers who wish to review these changes and well as others that I will be discussing in future entries.  

All of these revisions become effective in just a few weeks--on July 1, 2015.

I hope all of you are enjoying the "off season" whether you are up North or remaining in the Sunshine State for the summer.

 

 

ROCs and the Effective Dates of Bylaw Amendments

Here's yet another example of how the statutes governing condominium associations differ from those governing cooperative associations:

The members of a community association have just approved an amendment to the association's bylaws.  Exactly when does the amendment to the bylaws become effective?

Florida Statute Section 718.112(1)(b) provides that no amendment to the bylaws of a condominium association is valid unless properly recorded in the public records of the county where the declaration of condominium is recorded.  

No similar provision exists in Chapter 719 of the Florida Statutes, which governs cooperative associations.  Florida's Department of Business and Professional Regulation correctly notes that the question of when an amendment to the bylaws of a cooperative association becomes effective is not addressed in Chapter 719.

However, F.S. Section 719.106(1)(h) requires that the bylaws of a cooperative association provide for the method for amendment "consistent with the provisions" of Chapter 719 and if the bylaws do not provide a method for amendment, this section contains the "default" method to be used.

Most of the bylaws of cooperative associations that I've either prepared or reviewed do provide for a method of amendment and also provide for an effective date, which is quite often the date that a copy of the amendment and a properly signed certificate which confirms that the bylaw amendment was adopted by the members at a membership meeting is recorded in the public records of the county where the community is located.   This process is consistent with Chapter 719 and gives both unit owners and title examiners certainty as to the effective date of the bylaw amendment.

Thanks to the members of Mid-Florida ROC for their questions, comments and hospitality during my presentation at their meeting earlier this week at Country Club Manor in Eustis.

Our next community association seminar is scheduled for Tuesday morning, December 5, at Paradise Bay Estates in Bradenton.  If your community is located in the area and you'd like to attend, please send an email to kmidlam@lutzbobo.com or ksawdo@lutzbobo.com.    As always, there's no charge for the event and you''ll have the chance to network and have some refreshments. 

I'll be posting the dates and locations of other upcoming seminars and presentations in my next blog entry.

I hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving and look forward to seeing you soon!

ROCs and the Komen/Planned Parenthood Controversy

Followers of this blog know that I frequently caution that almost all board meetings in resident owned communities must be properly noticed and open to association members.  There are specific provisions prohibiting board members from meeting "behind closed doors" in the statutes governing condominium associations, cooperative associations, and mandatory homeowners associations.

While it's clear that these statutory provisions focus on ensuring that association members are provided with adequate notice of matters that are to be considered by the board of directors, there's another very important consideration that can be illustrated by the recent difficulties faced by Susan G. Komen  For the Cure after its decision to no longer offer grants to Planned Parenthood for mammograms was made public.

From what I've read about the initial decision, there was little if any input requested from or given by  the many local organizations that help fund. Komen .  In fact, it appears that some of Komen's board members were unaware of the decision--which had been made in the latter part of 2011

As everyone knows, once Komen's decision became public, a firestorm of negative publicity erupted--and even though Komen apparently reversed its decision shortly after the media picked up on the story, I have to believe that most of us will no longer view Komen in quite the same way as we did before all of this occurred.

My assumption is that no law prevented Komen's leadership from meeting "behind closed doors" when it concluded that the grants to Planned Parenthood be discontinued.   When a board is allowed to isolate itself from its members it's all too easy--and unfortunately all too common--to make decisions in a vacuum that prevents any factors or considerations other than those of the board members from being heard..  If one or two of those board members are particularly overbearing, it's not too much of a stretch to see how a ROC board could find itself regretting a decision made "behind closed doors" once that decision is made public and legitimate concerns of the members are finally heard.

This is a very important "side effect"  of the laws requiring open board meetings and member input at those meetings--no "vacuum" can exist if those laws are followed.   Every resident owned community benefits when decisions are made only after the members have been given the opportunity to have their say.  

I wonder if Komen's leadership wishes it had given its supporters that opportunity before making its initial decision on the grants to Planned Parenthood

Fido, Foreclosures, and Florida versus the Feds

I'm posting the links to three recent articles for my blog readers:

  • The first story involves the efforts of a condominium association in Jupiter, Florida to use a dog's individual DNA to help identify canine offenders (and their owners) of the community's "pooper scooper" rules.
  •  The aggressive approach taken by a  homeowners' association in Pembroke Pines to collect delinquent maintenance and other fees--brought about in no small part by the foreclosure crisis--is the focus of the second article.
  • Finally, a very sobering report from the Palm Beach Post on the battle brewing between Florida's emergency managers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency as to whether every emergency shelter in the state is required to be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.   According to this article, the cost to bring each of the hundreds of emergency shelters in Florida into compliance with the ADA may exceed One Billion Dollars--and the last time I checked, our state doesn't have that kind of money in its cookie jar.

I hope you enjoy reading these three stories and look forward to your comments.

 

 

"Emergency" Board Meetings Require Real Emergencies

Those of you that have attended our seminars for resident owned communities know that I stress the importance of all board meetings being properly noticed and open to all association members.

I'm asked at least several times every year whether a ROC board can meet in "emergency" session and thus dispense with the requirements to post a notice of the board meeting at least 48 hours before the meeting (or, in certain situations, to provide the notice to the members at least 14 days before the meeting).  

Sometimes, the question involves an item that was not included in the agenda for an otherwise properly noticed board meeting but was considered or attempted to be considered by the board on an "emergency" basis.

The Florida Statutes governing condominium associations, cooperative associations, and mandatory homeowners' associations provide for the board to act in an emergency without first providing notice to the membership.   In fact, several years ago, the legislature added Florida Statute Section 718.1265 to the statutes governing condominium associations to specifically provide for a condominium association's emergency powers in response to "damage caused by an event for which a state of emergency is declared" under Florida law.

Neither cooperative associations nor mandatory homeowners' associations were granted the specific powers set forth in F.S. Section 718.1265 and an emergency situation could exist in a community even if a state of emergency has not been declared.

So exactly what constitutes an "emergency? 

Here's my simple rule of thumb:  Can the situation wait until proper notice is given?  In other words, will the community suffer severe damage that will be cost a substantial amount to repair or be impossible to repair if the board waits 48 hours before it acts?  

Here are a few examples of what I consider an "emergency":
 

  • The need for immediate response either before, during, or after a hurricane
  • The clubhouse is destroyed or severely damaged by fire or weather related event
  • A water main that serves the community breaks and sewage is running down the streets of the community

And, regardless of what board members may think, I don't believe any of the following constitute an "emergency":

  • An important issue must be voted on before the next scheduled board meeting and was not placed on the agenda for the board meeting that is scheduled for today
  • The association has an opportunity to buy a truck at a great price but has been told it must act today
  • A crack has developed in one of the shuffleboard courts and the contractor says he'll give the association a "bargain" price if the board can commit to him immediately

Board members should use a common sense approach when considering whether "emergency" action is permitted.   The members of community associations have the right to know when the board is meeting and what issues the board is considering--and unless a situation truly demands immediate action in order to protect the community, its residents, and its property, the board should simply schedule a "special" board meeting to deal with the situation and post the notice and agenda as required by Florida law.  

Better to wait that short period of time than deal with angry residents or have to explain to our Department of Business and Professional Regulation why the board violated Florida law.

 

 

 

Ballots, Proxies, and the Annual Meeting

I've been spending a good deal of time recently attending the annual membership meetings of a number of the ROCs we represent and helping many of our communities prepare for these meetings.

I thought I'd list a few reminders for board members and managers of condominium and cooperative associations preparing for annual meetings:

  • The annual meeting is a meeting of the members--it's not a board meeting.   While it's common for the board members at the annual meeting to sit and face the unit owners, the directors should remember that it's the membership that will be voting on the issues on the agenda.
  • The agenda should concisely and clearly list what business will be considered by the membership.  Only items on the agenda can be considered by the members.
  • Ballots are NOT proxies and cannot be used to establish a quorum.   While only twenty per cent of the unit owners are needed to cast ballots in order to conduct an election of the association's directors, other items that require the approval of the unit owners at the annual meeting must occur at a meeting where there is a quorum of the membership's voting interests present.  That quorum requirement is usually a simple majority of the voting interests.
  • As we all know, the quorum requirement can be satisfied through the use of proxies that allow a unit owner who does not attend the meeting to appoint a proxy holder to cast that absent unit owner's vote.   Florida statutes governing condominium associations and cooperative associations allow both limited and general proxies to be used to help establish a quorum.

Occasionally, a cooperative or condominium association will have an annual meeting where the unit owners will not be voting on any item that would have to be included on a limited proxy form.  Communities that are fully funding reserves and conducting annual audits would thus not be voting to waive those requirements and might have no other issues requiring a unit owner vote requiring limited proxies.  However, managers and board members in these communities should still deliver a general proxy form to the unit owners and take great care to stress to the membership the importance of properly completing and returning those general proxies.   Keep in mind that if the unit owners decide that there's no reason ton attend the annual meeting (since "nothing important" is happening) and not enough of those unit owners return completed proxies to the association, the association may not be able to conduct any official business at the annual meeting because a quorum was not obtained.

Hopefully, problems of this nature will remain extremely rare in Florida's resident owned communities.

We'll be posting the dates and locations of this season's last set of seminars as well as several speaking engagements within the next two weeks and hope you'll be able to attend one of those events.

 

 

 

 

ROCs, Record Inspection Requests, and Privacy

We just finished a busy two week stretch of very well attended seminars.   Thanks to our friends at Paradise Bay Estates in Bradenton, Imperial Bonita Estates in Bonita Springs, Village at Riverwalk in North Port, and Hammock Estates in Sebring for hosting those events.

One of the topics we discussed involved how to balance the rights of a member of a resident owned community to inspect and copy the association's "official records" with the rights of each resident of the community to have certain information remain confidential and protected.

I wanted to highlight several important points made during my presentation on this topic:

  • Almost any document currently located in the association's offices falls within the definition of an "official record" under the Florida Statutes governing condominium, cooperative, and mandatory homeowners' associations.
  • However, certain documents that are "official' records are nonetheless protected or :"exempt" and even if a member requests to inspect those documents the association shall not allow that member access to those records. 
  • Florida's legislators recently amended the statutes governing condominium and mandatory homeowners' associations and added several new categories of these protected or "exempt" documents.   However, the legislators failed to amend the statute governing cooperative associations and, as a result, a member of a cooperative association may still be entitled to inspect personnel records as well as obtain information about other residents--such as email addresses, telephone and fax numbers, and northern addresses--that are now clearly "off limits" to members of condominium associations or mandatory homeowners associations.
  • All managers and board members should remember that a member cannot simply show up in the office one day and demand that he immediately be allowed to inspect one or more of the association's "official records".  There is a specific procedure that is to be followed under Florida's statutes and all members should be required to follow those procedures.

We always suggest that any request to inspect an association's "official records" be immediately forwarded to the association's attorney.  The attorney can help the association properly evaluate and respond to request and assist in ensuring that the association complies with Florida's statutory requirements while not violating its members' privacy rights.

The dates, locations and topics for our January seminars will be announced within the next week.  Stay tuned and try to keep warm!

Skype and ROC Board Meetings

Most ROC managers and board members know that Florida statutes governing condominium associations and cooperative associations allow directors to attend a board meeting by phone.  

While the statutes governing mandatory homeowners associations don't provide for an HOA board member to appear by phone at a board meeting, if the HOA is a not-for-profit corporation (and most are), the provisions of Florida Statute Section 617.0820(4) may apply and allow HOA directors to participate by "any means of communication by which all directors participating may simultaneously hear each other during the meeting".

The statutory provisions governing condominium and cooperative associations focus on the ability the directors not attending the meeting in person to hear and be heard by the board members attending in person as well as the unit owners present at the board meeting.  Both statutes (Section 718.112(2)(b)5 for condominium associations and 719.106(1)(b)5 for cooperative associations), in contrast to Section 617.0820(4), specifically refer to a "telephone conference" and the use of a "telephone speaker".

But what about Skype?

Many of my blog readers may know that Skype is a free computer program that allows its users to speak at no expense with other Skype users through their computers via the internet.  

One of the manufactured housing cooperatives we represent was thinking about using Skype as a substitute for phone conference calls for directors who could not appear in person for board meetings.   At the time, I hadn't sampled Skype and felt that the process might be too cumbersome and was concerned about statute's specific reference to the use of a telephone.

That was several months ago--before I retired the old but trusty laptop that my younger daughter had handed down to me and purchased a new laptop with a built-in web camera feature.   I thus had an excuse to try Skype and was very impressed with the audio and visual quality of the connection (no doubt to the amusement and mild annoyance of my daughters and one of my nieces who were the first three recipients of my Skype "test run" and who of course have used Skype for several years).

I visited Skype's website and it appears that Skype users can easily arrange for conference calls that will allow everyone on the call to hear and be heard.   I can certainly picture board meetings where there will be a laptop (rather than a telephone speaker) in the center of the table at the ROC clubhouse where the meeting is being held--all at no cost to the association other than the ongoing monthly charge for internet service and, if a member's laptop is not on that clubhouse table, the one-time charge for the association to purchase a laptop.

While using Skype rather than a telephone speaker may not technically constitute a "telephone conference," I would certainly hope that as long as all board members and unit owners can hear and be heard, a board meeting where some directors attend by Skype would meet the statutory requirements.

I'm can't wait for my next chat with that forward thinking ROC.

ROCs and the Foreclosure Crisis

The headline of Sunday's edition of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reads "Condo Groups in Financial Pain".  The story accompanying that headline details the severe economic problems many condominium associations face as a result of the ongoing foreclosure crisis.   The article is well worth reading and contains examples of how several associations are attempting to survive a substantial decrease in their members and maintenance fees.

Our resident owned communities, for the most part, have not been severely impacted by the foreclosure crisis.  One of the reasons for this is that the ROCs we work with truly are resident owned--our ROC members customarily live in their homes for at least part of the year (or have one or more members of their family in the home).   In other words, very few of the homes in any of the ROCs we represent can  be characterized as "investment properties".

Nonetheless, I'd like to offer a few suggestions that may help ROC managers and board members better deal with problems arising from residents that fail to make timely payments of rents, maintenance fees or assessments:

  1. Given the current economic climate, it's important to strongly encourage all residents to make payments when they are due.   I suggest a policy that should be developed and consistently and uniformly followed to send written notices to all delinquent members no later than 5 to 10 days after payment is due.    Many of the rights given to ROCs by the Florida Statutes to file legal actions or record liens for unpaid assessments and fees are triggered by providing written notice to the homeowner and the sooner this notice can be given the sooner the association can exercise its statutory rights.
  2. The association should not be shy about getting its attorney involved early in the process to assist in recording liens and the legal actions that may be needed to protect the association's interests.  While there are certainly expenses involved in these legal remedies, it's quite often necessary to send a message to the members of the community that the ROC board and manager will do whatever it takes within the limits of the law to collect delinquent fees and rents owed to the community.,
  3. When the association is named as a defendant in a foreclosure action filed against one of its members by an institutional lender, I always advise the association to answer that foreclosure complaint.  The association's filing of that answer ensures that the association will receive copies of all of the important pleadings that will be filed in that law suit, including the certificate of title that is issued to the person or company that purchases the home at the foreclosure sale.   It's very important that the association determine the new owner of the home as quickly as possible as Florida statutes quite often require that new owner to pay at least a portion of the unpaid maintenance fees or assessments to the association.   The association may have no way to quickly determine the name of the new owner if it has not filed its response to that foreclosure action.

Let's hope that 2010 brings us all heath, prosperity and happiness and that the "foreclosure crisis" is just a dim memory by this time next year.